July 14, 2006

In This Issue

SENATE PANEL BOOSTS FUNDING FOR NSF, NASA, NOAA

The Senate Appropriations Science, State, Commerce, and Justice Subcommittee approved a Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 appropriations bill that boosts funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NSF received a $411 million increase (7.4 percent) from the FY 2006 enacted level, to a total of $6 billion for FY 2007. This mark falls below the House mark of $6.02 billion but nevertheless represents a significant move towards the Bush Administration’s goal of a 10-year doubling of NSF research.

Within NSF, the Education Directorate fared well compared to the Administration’s request. The spending panel more than doubled the Administration’s $20 million requested increase for the $800-million education directorate. The Subcommittee boosted funding for grants to under-performing states and recruitment of minority scientists.

The Subcommittee greatly boosted funding for NASA by approving $1 billion in emergency spending to partially reimburse NASA for the cost of returning the space shuttle to flight after the 2003 Columbia tragedy. The additional money, which would raise the agency’s 2007 budget by 7 percent rather than the 1 percent requested by the President in February, is expected to be spread among the science, aeronautics, and exploration programs now starved for funding. Legislators scolded agency officials for short-changing space and earth science missions and for neglecting research agencies outside the President’s proposal for human exploration of the moon and Mars.

The Subcommittee also reversed House cuts to NOAA, instead boosting NOAA’s FY 2007 funding level by 18 percent to $4.43 billion. Much of that increase went toward programs identified as priorities by a recent report of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, although the Subcommittee noted that it was unable to fund all of the Commission’s recommendations.

After Senate mark-up and passage, the appropriations bill will face conference with the House, where Senate boosts to NOAA and NASA may be compromised with the lower House marks. Lobbyists expect this bill and other appropriations measures to be put on hold until after the November elections.

BUSH ADMIN SEEKS TO REPLACE MONITORING PROVISION IN NORTHWEST FORESTS

The Bush Administration resumed its effort to replace a controversial section of the Northwest Forest Plan that requires federal agencies to closely monitor the health of non-endangered and threatened species in old-growth forests.

In a bid to replace the “survey-and-manage” provision of the landmark 1994 forest plan, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a new draft environmental impact statement (EIS) designed to address the concerns of a federal judge who blocked the Administration’s efforts last year. A public comment period on the document will run through October 5, 2006.

Under the Northwest Forest Plan, federal agencies were directed to survey public lands in Northern California, Oregon and Washington for about 300 species, including fungi, lichens, mosses, plants, snails and other animals considered to be at risk due to their association with old-growth forests but not protected under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2004, the Bush Administration eliminated this requirement in an effort to increase timber production under the plan, which had fallen below what was expected. The Administration and the timber industry argue that sensitive and special-status species policies in place before the 1994 plan are sufficient to protect the old-growth dependent plants and animals and prevent future listings under the Endangered Species Act.

But in 2005, Judge Marsha Pechman of the U.S. District Court in Seattle said the revision violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws, calling survey-and-manage “a necessary part” of meeting the plan’s objectives to protect old-growth species. She reinstated the provision, which the Forest Service and BLM are currently operating under, pending public comment and the judge’s acceptance of the draft EIS.

NAVY SETTLES ON SONAR PRECAUTIONS

The Navy and an environmental group reached an out-of-court agreement on the issue of whale safety that will allow the Navy to use active sonar during a multinational exercise underway off Hawai’i.

The Navy agreed to add whale spotters during sonar drills and to expand a buffer zone where it would not conduct the active sonar drills. In exchange, the Natural Resources Defense Council withdrew its lawsuit.

District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California had blocked the Navy from using the midfrequency active sonar until a July 18 hearing. She had agreed with the lawsuit’s assertion that the sonar use would violate the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Navy had sought to have Cooper’s order reversed by a federal appeals court as endangering national security and military cooperation between the U.S. and its allies. The Navy argues that the active sonar exercises are needed to train sailors to detect stealthy submarines such as those in the naval forces of Iran, North Korea and China.

But a number of scientific studies say the sound waves produced by the sonar could injure or possibly kill whales and other marine mammals.

G8 LEADERS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE AT SUMMIT

French President Jacques Chirac plans to focus on climate change at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, this weekend, by developing a new climate change plan that all G8 countries — Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States – could commit themselves to.

“The G8 must lead the world with a unified strategy,” Chirac wrote in a Christian Science Monitor op-ed.

“Global threats require global responses. We shall not solve the problem of global warming if we each go our own way or increase the number of unilateral or partial solutions. This is particularly true for global warming,” Chirac wrote.

He called for the establishment of a United Nations Environmental Organization to coordinate this new global endeavor and for member countries to set “ambitious national goals” in the areas of renewable, alternative energies — including nuclear — and energy-saving policies.

In addition, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to call for expanding the G8 bloc in order to make meaningful pacts on climate change and other issues. Blair’s position is that it will be easier to convince the United States to sign a mandatory greenhouse gas reduction pact if the deal includes developing powerhouses that have been left out of previous agreements. Blair is calling for Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa to join an expanded G8.

Blair hopes to press for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol at the conference and believes the inclusion of the five new countries would greatly enhance the chances of another global emissions treaty. In total, four industrialized countries chose not to ratify Kyoto: Australia, Liechtenstein, Monaco and the United States.

“There is no way we can deal with climate change unless we get an agreement that binds in the U.S., China and India,” Blair said. “We have got to get an agreement with a binding framework — of that I am in no doubt at all. There is no point in thinking Congress is going to enter a binding commitment to change the structure of the U.S. economy without China and India being part of the deal.”

The leaders of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa will attend the summit for an “outreach session”.

Nuclear power is likely to figure prominently in the G8 talks as energy security will be one of the key issues to be discussed at the summit. Five G8 members — Britain, Canada, China, Russia and the United States — are looking to expand their use of nuclear power in response to concerns over global warming.

INTERNATIONAL BANKS RAISE ENVIRONMENTAL STANDARDS FOR LENDING

Several dozen international banks announced revisions to voluntary environmental and social guidelines, called the “Equator Principles”, that steer project finance for energy and other infrastructure projects worldwide.

The principles, launched in 2003, are followed by 40 financial institutions such as Citigroup, Banco do Brazil, Barclays, ABN-AMRO, Wells Fargo and others representing a host of countries. They aim to prevent harmful environmental and social consequences from power plant, oil and gas, mining, dams and many other types of projects.

According to the principles, “negative impacts on project-affected ecosystems and communities should be avoided where possible, and if these impacts are unavoidable, they should be reduced, mitigated and/or compensated for appropriately.”

The revised principles now apply to projects with a capital cost of over $10 million, expanding the range of projects from those that fell within the 2003 threshold of $50 million. Other changes include consideration of environmental and social issues earlier in the project planning and financing process, and application of the guidelines to upgrades and expansions of existing projects where the additional effects are “significant”. The banks must also report annually on progress and performance in implementation of the principles.

Jon Sohn, Senior Associate at the World Resources Institute — a Washington, D.C.-based think tank – praised several of the changes, but also flagged what he said were problems with the principles. He said the participating banks should provide more information about how the guidelines are being applied to specific projects.

Additionally, he said, winning future participation from other banks, particularly those in China, is a major goal, given their increasing role in project financing worldwide.


Sources: Christian Science Monitor; Energy and Environment Daily; Greenwire; Los Angeles Times; ScienceNow; Senate Appropriations Committee

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